Parents, like pretty much everyone else, are understandably focused on COVID-19 right now. But it’s important not to forget about the vaccine-preventable illnesses that can also be fatal, pediatricians are warning.
“We can’t prevent COVID now with a vaccine,” Toronto pediatrician Dr. Dina Kulik told HuffPost Canada. “But there are vaccines for things that are vaccine-preventable that kill kids at a much higher rate than COVID kills kids.”
People have been warned not to go into doctor’s offices for anything non-essential, as healthcare services are overwhelmed and there’s a risk of catching the novel coronavirus at any medical facility.
But Kulik wants parents to know that vaccines fall into the “essential” category.
“I have pretty significant concerns that when things go back to ‘normal,’ there will be tons of under-vaccinated kids in the community,” Kulik said. “I worry about having resurgences of things like measles or whooping cough or meningitis. These are vaccine-preventable illnesses.”
The Canadian Pediatric Society is advising parents to maintain their children’s immunization schedules, despite the coronavirus crisis.
“Routine immunizations for children should be maintained as usual, because any delay or omission in scheduled vaccines puts children at risk for common and serious childhood infections,” the say on their website.
The importance of a vaccine schedule
Vaccine schedules vary slightly depending where you live, but Health Canada has a detailed explanation of when infants and young children should receive vaccinations. Typically, there are different vaccines kids should get when they’re two months old, four months, six months, 12 months, 15 months, and 18 months.
Babies and young children are most vulnerable to many fatal diseases, because their immune systems haven’t yet developed, Health Canada explains.
Many of the diseases that we now have vaccinations for, like polio, diptheria and whooping cough, used to kill hundreds of thousands of children before there was an effective way to prevent them. Others, like mumps or pneumococcal infection, can lead to deadly illnesses like meningitis.
If your pediatrician’s office is closed
Many pediatricians’ offices are still open and providing vaccines during the pandemic. But some have closed, due to staff getting sick or a lack of PPE, among other reasons.
If that’s the case with your doctor, get in touch with them to ask if they can refer you to someone else. Most doctors will be able to give you a suggestion of another clinic in your area that can provide you with a vaccine, and should be able to transfer your child’s immunization records if you don’t have a copy on hand, Kulik said.
If for some reason you can’t access your doctor or someone else in their office — which is unlikely, but possible — check out public health units in your area, or do a search for your location and “vaccines for kids.” If you’re still having trouble, contact your province or territory’s Telehealth network — you might be on hold for a while, as they’re pretty busy these days, but they’ll be able to direct you to a service that can help you.
When your child is getting vaccines
Make sure to take precautions when you do being your children into a doctor’s office. Some clinics are asking that only one parent accompany a child inside, for instance.
Wearing a mask is a good idea (although keep in mind that Health Canada said children under two years old shouldn’t wear masks, as it can negatively impact their breathing). Make sure to wash your hands and your kids’ hands thoroughly and consider bringing hand sanitizer if you have any. Doctors will likely be decked out in full PPE, with gloves, protective clothing, and a face shield.
“This is really, really important,” Kulik said. “We’re so scared of COVID, but COVID is not typically making kids very sick or killing them. But meningitis certainly is.”
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